Doran on Social Engagement and Evangelism

I mentioned in this post that I’m reading For the Sake of His Name by Dave Doran & Pearson Johnson. In chapter 5, Doran addresses the relationship between social work and evangelism, both from recent history and from Scripture.  The chapter sheds light on the prolonged discussion I and others had with Dr. Doran in the comments section of this thread almost a year ago.

In chapter 5 of For the Sake of His Name,  Doran criticizes the shift of evangelical missions from proclamation of gospel truth to holistic/social/incarnational ministry.  He explains that the shift took place in the mid-70’s as a result of the Congress for World Evangelization in Lausanne, Switzerland in 1974.  The spearhead of the movement away from proclamational ministry to incarnational (proclamational + social) ministry following that conference was John Stott, so Doran spends most of this chapter critiquing the exegesis and theology behind Stott’s teaching. I won’t repeat the arguments here, but it’s a compelling read.

This chapter is very helpful in understanding the concern of Doran and others that the church is once again beginning to focus its attention on non-proclamational ministry, especially since he notes that he has “heard many of these same arguments beginning to filter into fundamentalist preaching and teaching on missions and evangelism.” (p. 102)

One more thing: this message from the National Church Planting Conference makes a pretty strong case that the idea of pre-evangelism has some serious theological problems—as though our kindness will somehow make it easier for spiritually blind men to see the glorious light of the gospel.  The idea of “building a bridge” prior to communicating the gospel may have some theological problems you haven’t yet considered.  Taking the time to read this chapter and hear the message would be worth your while.


8 Responses

  1. Show kindness and love to the neighbors.

    But the heart of this is the proclamation of the person and work of Jesus Christ.

    Good stuff, Chris. We can’t beat around the bush. Time is too short. We must get to the heart of the issues.


  2. Just wondering what Doran would do with passages that seem to teach a holistic/building a bridge approach to evangelism; passages such as Matthew 5:16, I Peter 2:11-12, and Titus 3:8.

    While the above incarnational verses do not replace nor discourage proclamational evangelism, they do command believers to authenticate their message with good works (i.e., “let your light so shine before men” … “be careful to maintain good works”). While it is certainly true that God does not need our “bridge-building” to convert a soul, He seems to use our compassion and good works as a means to bring about conversion. Could we not say the same about praying for the lost?

    Perhaps I am missing your point here, Chris, and if so, feel free to correct me.

    I do not believe it’s an either/or proposition … it’s a both/and proposition.

  3. Hi, fellas.

    Todd, I tend to be very “friendship evangelism” oriented just by virtue of my personality. I want to be liked. However, sometimes I think I kid myself into thinking that my avoiding a confrontation with gospel truth is for the gospel’s reputation rather than my own. I think that’s often not the case. I was nailed on this point by the sermon of a pastor-friend of mine, Todd Nye. Paul expected to be considered a fool when preaching the gospel, and he was okay with that. Somehow, I’m smarter than him. (I speak as a fool.) And you’re right: it’s not really being loving or friendly to withhold from someone the only thing that can save his soul and reconcile him to God. Frankly, for me, sometimes it’s not a matter of bridge-building; it’s just cowardice.

    Ken, I’ll see if Doran would like to explain himself. I’m sure he wouldn’t be really excited to have me as his mouthpiece. And frankly, I’m working through all of this myself, and last time found myself on the opposite side of the discussion from Doran.

    I think there are two basic issues with the holistic approach: (1) Is it part of the Great Commission? and (2) Is it theologically tenable?

    What is particularly problematic with the bridge-building idea is that somehow we can enhance the possibility of the gospel being received by something we do (outside of speaking the gospel, I mean). The idea that winning someone to me will facilitate winning them to Christ is tough to argue theologically, especially for those of us who see salvation as a miraculous work of God. Further, the idea that the Great Commission calls for holistic ministry is without foundation, I think. That’s not to say that the NT doesn’t call for godly living, good works, etc. Of course it does. It calls for me to be a loving husband, too. But to somehow weave that into the Great Commission (for example) would be ridiculous. Does that make sense? To say that Christians should live exemplary lives before the world (which is clear) is not at all the same as saying that’s part of the Great Commission.

    Interestingly, I just came across the idea that the Christian’s life will make the gospel easier to swallow. Consider this from Joseph Parker, a contemporary of Spurgeon:

    “Christianity will find its best eloquence in its beneficence. To do good is to repel every enemy and to answer every sneer. I want us as Christians so to work, that men will be able to say, when they are tempted to abandon the church and leave Christian society:

    ‘We are poor men, illiterate men, uneloquent men; we cannot answer arguments, but the Christians of this neighborhood have been kinder to us than any other people. We know not what you say when you utter long words and refer to historical difficulties, but the woman who sat up with our dying child was a woman who could pray. We do not understand your chronology and archaeology and your scientific penetrations and oppositions; you confuse us with such unfamiliar words, but in sorrow it is the Christian who calls at this house first, it is the Christian who stays longest, it is the Christian who speaks most sweetly, it is the Christian that puts into our minds the most elevating and soothing thoughts.’

    So long as Christianity can elicit testimony like that, all opposition against it is a worthless taunt, a mockery that has no message for the heart, a lie that turns black in the face while it utters its base message.” (commentary on Matthew, III, 223-224, emphases his)

    Again, I’m working this out. But to say that the key to winning people to Christ is kindness is theologically problematic. If people are truly spiritually dead, my kindness won’t give them life, or even get them ready for life. Not that I should kick the dead guy, of course, but I need to understand the impossibility of my making his coming to life more likely by my “beneficence,” to quote Parker.

    Here’s a quick illustration to end a long post: We just had our church family rally around two individuals that lost their parents, both of whom have extended family that is lost. One mentioned to me that the number of TCBC people at the viewing and funeral really made an impression on his unsaved brother. Amen. That’s a great testimony. However…

    1. I don’t think it will make his salvation more likely.
    2. I don’t think we were fulfilling the Great Commission.

    I’ll try to drag Doran into the conversation, but it would be good to listen to the sermon and (if possible) read the chapter in the meantime.

    Thanks for the discussion as I sort this all out myself.

  4. Do Christian graces, the fruit of the Spirit, etc, = social work?

    In this discussion, are we confusing the issue by identifying similar but distinct things?

    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

  5. Perhaps you can clarify where you see this, Don, just so I’m understanding you.

    My off-the-cuff answer is that even Christian graces, though obviously necessary, aren’t immediately part of the Great Commission. From what Doran says, proponents of Lausanne’s philosophy (like Stott) weren’t just calling for social action, but were actually including it as a part of the Great Commission, comparing social work and gospel proclamation to the 2 wings of a bird or the 2 blades of a pair of scissors.

    Doran’s response (as I understand it from the book and our previous discussion) is at least two-fold:

    1. One must prove that the church has a social responsibility outside of its own membership. If you can do that satisfactorily (and he would say you can’t), then…

    2. One must prove that these responsibilities are actually included in the Great Commission (and he would say they absolutely aren’t).

  6. Hi Chris

    My questions were more directed to the comments than to what Doran is saying. There seemed to be some confusion of terms in what Todd and Ken were referring to. Good works are a given for a Christian. I don’t think social work (as such) necessarily is. I am completely in agreement with Dave on this. And the ‘givenness’ of good works flows from the Great Commission as a fruit, not as a goal.

    Maybe it was just me, but it seemed like both good works (fruit) and social works were being confused.

    Anyway, don’t mind me! I often don’t make sense to myself.

    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

  7. As an evidence of the point in view, when my wife and I were in language school at a very New Evangelical school in Texas, there were “missionaries” of every stripe. We remember very specifically 2 United Methodist couples who were going to Ecuador (I believe.) The social gospel was a big part of their program. They were going to dig ditches, install sewer lines, build buildings, etc. They flat out said that those things had to be done first. We specifically asked them when they would begin giving the gospel and they paused and said, “Well, we really don’t know.”
    When something is added alongside the true gospel, it very quickly takes over and becomes the “gospel” for many and the true gospel takes a back seat or is forgotten.

  8. Dr. Doran is out of the country ministering in one of Inter-City’s missions endeavors. He won’t be back until the end of this week. I don’t know if he has internet access where he is.

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